Friday, January 31

Intellectual RH debate

You have to hand it to the reproductive-health extremists. What they lack in logic, they make up for in sheer vitriol.

Their latest victim is the recently concluded Asia Pacific Conference on Reproductive Health and Sexual Rights (APCRHSR) at the Philippine International Convention Center. The same people who made the most noise in the days of the RH Bill debate filed a petition before a Pasay City court to prevent the event from pushing through.

The petition was filed on the eve of the opening of the APCRHSR; it was subsequently denied by the court, and the conference began and ended without a hitch. But the bigger point is loud and clear: if you think they’ll stop at anything to get their point across, you’re wrong.

Now, there’s a separate question of what their point is, and the answer to it is not immediately clear. During the RH debate, our best guess was that they thought our laws should be based on the Bible. And not just any Bible, but the version/s they had in their hands. And not just the Bibles in their hands, but only specific verses in it. And not just specific verses, but the Catholic Church’s specific interpretation of these verses. Of course, the language of their argument was nowhere as overt, and was instead comfortably coated in euphemistic references to a pro-life Constitution whose preamble implores the aid of Almighty God.

In this specific petition, the camp seems to be making the case that the idea—not the act, but the idea—of abortion is so abhorrent that the mere mention of the word is a violation of the Constitution. At this rate, the group should also file petitions for an injunction against dictionaries sold in the Philippines that include an entry for “abortion.”

The other extreme isn’t much better, either. Rabid pro-RH proselytizers think of the law as a magic bullet for all of the country’s problems. To them, anyone who opposes the law is a Bible-wielding bigoted old lady who is bothered by the mere idea of a condom. Some arguments, for example, went overboard in their defense of the RH Bill, changing the debate from a consideration of the merits and demerits of the proposed law into a nonstop bashing of religion in general.

In perpetually trying to outshout each other, these two extremes may have dominated the Reproductive Health Bill debate, but I am of the hope that they actually make up a very noisy minority. In the process, they drown out what we really need right now—an honest, respectful, and intellectual RH debate based on straight facts and sober logic. There are a great many of us who are wary of, if not outright opposed to, the RH Bill for reasons not explained in the Bible. In the same way, there are many who favor the passage of the law, but not because they believe our problems are caused solely by poor people who can’t stop breeding.

When the RH Law was still a bill, the Makabayan bloc in the House of Representatives expressed opposition to the fact that it was being peddled as a population control measure. The problem, they said, was not that there are too many of us, but that we aren’t getting enough of what we need. (The Makabayan bloc eventually voted in favor of the bill while maintaining their reservations.) Population scientists have also warned against the effects of negative population growth. Countries with an old population lack a robust workforce, which is crucial to economic development. A strong workforce is what our country needs, not a smaller one.

You know what these arguments represent? A reasonable opposition, which is something we sorely lacked when the RH Bill was still pending in Congress. Now that the RH Law is nearing implementation (unless, of course, the Supreme Court goes into an irrational fit), we need to watch it even more closely, and discuss it more soberly.

In the Senate and the Lower House, we were discussing in the language of hypotheticals; when the SC lifts its TRO, we will be dealing with real effects and real taxpayer pesos in expenditures. Now is the time for vigilance.

Photo from Flickr / Jason Licerio

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